With their pierced rocaille mounts, curvaceous form and chinoiserie decoration, these superb commodes epitomise the fascination for the Orient and the then prevalent goût for all things exotic. Decorated with lustrous panels of Chinese red and gilt lacquer set within foliate and rockwork framing mounts, the present pair was conceived in the 18th century tradition of the fashionable Parisian dealers or marchands-merciers who had perfected the art of marrying the exoticism of oriental lacquer with European ébénisterie of the finest quality.
The present commodes were executed circa 1750 by the marchand-ébéniste Balthazar Coulon who is recorded to have worked with the celebrated 'Ebéniste de la Couronne' Gilles Joubert. The subcontracting practices of the 'ébénistes de la Couronne' are well established and Joubert is known to have collaborated closely with fellow ébénistes such as RVLC, Boudin, Dubois and Criaerd to name a few. Coulon was particularly close to Joubert and was even named his executor (exécuteur testamentaire) upon his death in 1775.
Another commode by Balthazar Coulon, with stencilled Royal inventory inscription 'No.2378', was delivered to Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, 'Intendant et contrôleur général des Meubles de la Couronne', by Gilles Joubert. The latter commode was delivered together with a secrétaire and a pair of encoignures, also stenciled with Royal inventory numbers which followed that on the latter commode (nos 2379 & 2380), for the personal apartment of Fontanieu in the hôtel du Garde-Meuble Royal in Paris. Although the page corresponding to its delivery in the Journal du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne is tantalizingly missing, it is mentioned briefly in a summary of the Journal du Garde-Meuble, and further described in detail in a 1790 general inventory of the furniture and bronzes at the Palace of Versailles.
The Coulon were a dynasty of Parisian ébénistes and marchands who flourished between 1710 and 1775 and include Jean Coulon (c.1685-1734), his son Balthazar (1710- c.1790), Jean's brother Gaspard (c.1690-after 1775) and the latter's son, Jean-François.
The stamp 'B. Coulon' is extremely rare and most certainly corresponds to that of Balthazar, while the stamp 'Coulon' (without the initial) is generally considered by scholars (including the Comte de Salverte) to be that of his uncle Gaspard. Balthazar's father Jean established his atelier rue Plâtrière in 1716, and is recorded to have significantly developed his retail business over the years. Jean was first marchand-ébéniste, later becoming 'marchand-mercier joaillier', and his popularity grew rapidly. Balthazar was received maître in 1728 and first worked in his father's atelier before taking it over at the former's death in 1734.
Boulle marquetry (armoires and clock cases) was the specialty of the workshop which also produced amaranth, rosewood and kingwood furniture. The 1734 inventory lists several pieces in red or black vernis (eg, 'tables de toilette', 'tables en cabarets', encoignures, and wall-shelves) as well as 'quatre feuilles en vernis de la Chine' (four [screen] panels in Chinese lacquer) for producing lacquer furniture. Balthazar continued the family tradition of producing a wide range of meubles courants as well as meubles de luxe or d'apparat, including the production and retail of 'toutes sortes d'ébénisteries de bois des Indes, vernis de la Chine' [all types of cabinetry with timbers from India and lacquer from China], as printed on the advertising pamphlets (or 'carte-réclame') published by Molinier in 'Histoire des Arts appliqués l'Industrie', pl.III, p.252.
The scarcity of 'true' pairs of Louis XV commodes in the mid-18th would explain the slight variations in size and gilt-bronze decoration between the two commodes offered here as these were most probably commissioned for two distinct rooms in the same residence. Indeed, other than the few pairs supplied to the Couronne - which include the superb commodes by Nicolas-Jean Marchand, delivered in 1755 by the Gilles Joubert for the bedroom of Queen Marie Leczinska at the château de Fontainebleau (Christie's, London, 10 December 2010, lot 770, sold after sale £713,250 including premium) only very few 'true' pairs of Louis XV commodes were in fact produced. It is therefore almost certain that the present commodes would have been commissioned for the same residence but for a different room.
Red lacquer commodes related to those here offered include the celebrated pair executed by B.V.R.B. and probably delivered by the marchand-mercier Lazare-Duvaux between 1754 and 1758, formerly in the Grand Salon of the Hôtel de la Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville, rue de Varenne in Paris, and sold Sotheby's, Monaco, 15 June 1996, lots 132 and 133. A related red lacquer commode executed by Jacques Dubois was sold at Sotheby's, London, 13 December 2000, lot 130 (£377,500 including premium) while a further example by Matthieu Criaerd was supplied to Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, Dauphine de France for her cabinet de retraite at the château de Fontainebleau, was later with the Comtesse d'Artois, sister of Louis XVI, and subsequently sold Christie's, New York, 24 May 2001, lot 208. François Rubestck also executed closely related red lacquer commodes featuring comparable ormolu ornamentation among which one sold Piasa, Paris, 15 December 2004, lot 76.